Beat the Stress of the Holiday Gatherings by Emphasizing Playfulness

This guest post is by Anthony DeBenedet, M.D., a TEDxDetroit speaker and co-author of “The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It.” He was profiled in a recent Healthier Michigan blog post.

For many, the holidays are a time of intense stress and anxiety. We feel overwhelmed by our to-do lists and underwhelmed by the notion of quality family time. Often, our only reprieve is the clock—thank goodness this holiday too shall pass.

When we are faced with stress and anxiety, our initial response—which is natural and probably biologically driven—is to tighten. We seek more control, more power, and more perfection. Ironically, this usually leads to more out-of-control feelings, despair, and hopelessness. And if we don’t catch ourselves in this spiral early, then reversing course can be very challenging.

If this seems familiar to you, you are probably right now—on Thanksgiving eve—either going through the motions to get through the emotions, or you are desperately trying to mentally prepare yourself while completing your last to-dos. Either way, I’d like to offer you something that might help your day tomorrow, as well as come in handy when the next holiday rolls around. It’s called playfulness.

Anthony DeBenedet

Connecting Through Play

Playfulness is something that’s often mentioned as a key to healthy and successful relationships, but usually is mentioned after things like love, compassion, and respect. Lately, however, it has risen in the ranks because of popular books such as Stuart Brown’s “Play” and David Elkind’s “The Power of Play“. These experts argue that we need to make play a core part of who we are and try to incorporate it into our life experiences as much as possible.

I wholeheartedly agree with them. And they don’t just mean laugh more. Finding humor is part of it, but it goes much deeper, involving concepts like not taking yourself too seriously and building connections with others that are as much about love as they are about play.

The argument is there’s nothing in the world that actually builds a lasting, deep, and loving connection with someone else better than the ability to be playful together. When we are playful with each other, we are flexible and more likely to practice forgiveness, which allows all relationships to move forward.

Not Just For Kids

I write a lot about how playfulness, specifically healthy, physical play, can benefit the parent-child relationship. In general, when we become adults, we often lose this sense of playfulness, and it is only through a conscious decision to join our children in their world of play and imagination that we can regain it.

So, if you’re still reading, consider ways you might be able to incorporate more playfulness into your daily life. And why not start tomorrow? Give a high-five to someone who might not be expecting it, or bear-hug one of your relatives. Make time for those family board or card games after Thanksgiving dinner. And if you’re really daring, consider a family pillow fight—Thanksgiving is a great time to start a new tradition!

Keys to a playful, family pillow fight: always make it kids versus adults; adults should always lose and get knocked over; hold the zipper end of the pillow; and finally, throwing of pillows is prohibited—this creates a metaphorical disconnection and often results in lamps toppling over.

Try Some ‘Shrimp Creole’

If all this fails, and you’re still searching for some glimpse of connection tomorrow, find a young child (who you are related to) and try this game called Thanksgiving Shrimp Creole. It’s suitable for children aged 3-6, and is named after the delicious, but often wickedly spicy, Louisiana dish.

First you need some nicely curled shrimp. Kneel upright, sitting on your heels, and have the child climb up your back and curl over one shoulder. Guide the tasty shrimp, head-first, down the front of your chest to a cradled position in your arms. Pretend to have a difficult time keeping hold of the slippery critter. Place the child gently on the floor and sprinkle on some make-believe seasoning: tomatoes, onions, celery, peppers. Use gentle pokes and karate chops to mince the vegetables. Turn up the heat and give the dish a toss by playfully rolling the child over a few times. Don’t forget the hot sauce! End the move with a taste test, which might turn into a fun game of chase-and-miss.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Do you have any favorite playtime activities for holiday get-togethers?

Photo credit: cseeman

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